Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Tapestry Book One The Hound of Rowan by Henry H Neff

A young boy with special talents is approached by a special school located far from home to come and join a set of first year students and learn magic so that we can fight against evil powers. He has a magical animal to care for and powers and abilities well beyond his age or experience. No this is not Harry Potter but it certainly contains all the same elements and yet this book is not a copy or a poor relation to Harry Potter it is surprisingly a very engaging fantasy story.

Max McDaniels visits an art gallery with his dad, his mum has disappeared (I hope the resolution of this will happen in the second book). While he is at the gallery he sees a tapestry with a vivid battle scene. A mysterious man with white eyes appears to be following Max with sinister intentions. Later Max is visited by Nigel who works for the Rowan Academy and so Max leaves his dad and goes to live at the Academy which has all the usual features of a boarding school with eccentric teachers, banquet halls, ball games, and older students who are bullies.

There are some nice touches in this story by Henry Neff such as a grove of apple trees which the students visit on their first day. “Every year a Class Tree will bear one apple for each living member of that class. When a member of that class has passed on , his or her apple turns to gold. Thus we remember them, and those apples we do not touch.” Page 74

Then there are the rooms which are configured to match the students. Max and his room mate David are given the most magical room with an glass ceiling that reveals the night sky.

I also liked the magical creatures that the students are entrusted to take care of. The children are taken to the Sanctuary which is guarded by YaYa, a black lioness. Among the rare and endangered animals is a winged bull or Syrian Shedu, a small dog or Somerset Bray, twin fauns, a red bullfrog, a highlands hare called Tweedy and a silver gazelle or ulu. For Max the creature he must care for is Nick a Black Forest Lymrill which resembles an otter with metallic quills, a foxlike tail and curing black claws like a bear. To feed their animals the students tell a food bin what they need for example Max says ‘food for Nick: Black Forest Lymrill'. “The bin was piled high with crates of writhing rodents and worms along with small stacks of metal bars.” Page 143.
Sport, in this book, is a game like soccer but the twist is the sports field keeps changing with varying degrees of difficulty. Hills, fences, barriers, walls, lakes etc all appear randomly as the game progresses adding to the drama and requiring amazing skill levels.

If you enjoyed the Harry Potter books, or Skulduggery Pleasant (Derek Landy) or The Tower at Moonville (Stephen Elboz) then I am sure you will gobble up Tapestry Book one The Hound of Rowan. A terrific start to the series which is sure to be a winner with Primary readers.

The castle of Corona by Sharon Creech

When I see a book by a favourite author I can’t wait to dive in. Sharon Creech does not disappoint with her book The Castle Corona. This is a completely different style and genre to other books by Creech all of which are on my most favourite books lists. Love that Dog, Ruby Holler, Granny Torrelli makes soup, Heartbeat and Replay are all in our school library and all are really fabulous.

In this latest book we have a fairy tale with all the right ingredients – a king, a queen, spoilt royal children, orphans and a special destiny you just know will end with those important words “they all lived happily ever after”.

Pia and Enzo are orphans living with an angry and mean merchant. They dream of a better life. One day they find a small pouch filled with mysterious objects two cornos or amulets to ward off bad luck, two gold medallions, a lock of back hair and a small piece of parchment with a message the children cannot read.

My favourite character in this book is the Wordsmith who is summoned in the evenings in the castle to tell stories. He carries a small bag or pouch, he asks the audience to supply story ideas and characters, looks briefly into his pouch and then weaves his magical tales.

This is a book for all Primary children especially those who long for happy endings and stories of castles, royalty and delicious food! Warning don't read this book if you are feeling hungry.

The toilet kid by Pat Flynn and Don't Breathe a word by Marianne Musgrove

I have just read two books with very different styles and subject matter but both fall into the category of didactic fiction – books that are trying to teach us something. Perhaps this is not a bad thing but as an adult reading a children’s book sometimes the lessons can get in the way of a good story.

The first book is The Toilet Kid by Pat Flynn. At its heart this is a book about about anorexia although this word is never used and young readers could possibly read this short and funny novel all the way through and not know this is Kayla’s secret. I really did the enjoy The tuckshop kid which was the first book in this series but I am not sure The toilet kid is quite so successful. This second book has the same characters and setting but does not quite reach the humour of the first. Pat Flynn has a great web site you might want to check it out.

Just as we are never really told about Kayla’s problem, in Don’t Breathe a word Marianne Musgrove does not use the word dementia until the very last chapter of this story. Sisters Tahlia and Mackenzie Carew try to cope with their elderly Grandfather. They know something is seriously wrong with him but they are afraid if his condition is revealed the sisters will be separated and put into foster care. This is an easy novel to read and the girls, especially Mackenzie, are very caring of Pirate, the grandfather but I really wanted to know a little more of the back story. Mackenzie is terrified of water, for example, and this is linked to the death of her parents but this important story element is only briefly touched on towards the end of the book. These criticisms to one side this is a very readable book with a realistic setting and strong characters who touch your heart.

I would recommend these two books to sensitive readers in Years 4, 5 and 6.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Wild West Witches by Michael Molloy

I did enjoy this book and I think it might be a good one to recommend to Harry Potter fans but I would have liked a character list perhaps under headings of good and evil. There are so many bad characters in this book with similar evil intentions that I did get a little confused at times. This book does stand alone but things might be clearer if you read the first two books in the series before this one – The Witch Trade and Time Witches.

Our heroes are Abby and Spike two gifted kids who, with their Light Witch friends, travel back to the Wild West in order to save the world from the evil Wolfbane. There are two sources of magic in this book one for good used by the Light Witches called Ice Dust and one very evil. Wolfbane needs more of the evil one called Black Dust and he needs Excalibur to get it.

I fear there might be too many literary and historical references in this book and that readers might find it confusing. Mention is made to vaudeville, Excalibur, Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley to mention just a few.

Putting aside this criticism, there are fabulous character descriptions in this book and these might be useful for teachers when they are working on narratives with students.

Sir Chadwick Street : Tall and slender, he was a handsome man with a bold Roman nose dominating his face and , in the chill air he was looking pinker than usual. His battered tweed hat was pulled casually over his long marmalade-coloured hair and he worse a flowing red polka-dot bow tie with his stylish, fine-cut tweed suit. Page 18

Polartius the librarian : His sliver hair lay in coiled pools on the stone-flagged floor. … The ancient man looked at her over his wire-rimmed spectacles. Page 53

Homer P Stout : Dressed in black, he was quite thin except for a protruding stomach that swelled his waistcoat and drew attention to his heavy gold watch chain. He wasn’t very tall but he nonetheless seemed to be looking down at them. Page 104

Just like Harry Potter and his cloak of invisibility, Abby and Spike have wonderful Atlantis capes which can be cleaned and dried with just a shake and which transform themselves into any appropriate clothing for the climate and place.

If you like an action packed fantasy story and know something about the Wild West during the goldrush times then this might be the book for you. I have given some hints about the plot in this review but really this book is quite complicated so I can only say read it and see what YOU think!

Barnaby Grimes Curse of the Night Wolf by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

This fabulous gothic horror story is set in the London of Charles Dickens. Barnaby is a tick tock lad or messenger. He uses the roof tops as a quick route across the city and he knows all the nooks and crannies like the back of his hand.

The first page sets the tone for this book “Have you ever felt your skin being peeled slowly away from your arms and legs. Your muscles being torn and shredded as every bone in your body fights to burst through your flesh? Have you ever felt every tendon and sinew stretched to breaking point as your skeleton attempts to rip itself apart from the inside? I have and I’ll never forget it.”
Barnaby finds himself in the employ of the mysterious Dr Cadallader. Read more about the plot here.
Paul Stewart gives marvelous descriptions of his characters. Dr Cadallader had long white hair, parted in the centre, a pale, almost chalky pallor to his face and a pair of pince-nez spectacles. The illustrations by Chris Riddell are so detailed and fine. I especially liked the one on page 62 which shows Barnaby descending from a rooftop in a maneuver called a rolling derby. You can read more about these moves on the web site for this book listed below.

If you enjoy a touch of horror, werewolves, sinister characters and things that go bump in the night look for this book in our library you will not be disappointed. The web site for this book is outstanding - don't miss it. Turn on your computer and listen to the web site sound effects as you begin to read this story. Good news there are at least two more books in this series for you to enjoy too! Look for Legion of the dead and Return of the emerald skull.

Diego's Pride by Deborah Ellis

Sometimes sequels can let you down but this one certainly doesn’t. The action here begins from the end of the first book. Mando and the drug lord are both dead, Diego is on the run and he is now sheltering with a simple farming family in a rural district of Bolivia.

Deborah Ellis has that special gift of writing a narrative that allows you to really feel part of the action. Her books are like reading the movie.

Diego’s Pride is based on real events in Bolivia when the government used the army to destroy the country’s coca crops, bringing hardship to the local farmers. These farmers, called cocaleros, organised themselves into a union and blockaded highways all over the country. This protest movement continued for nearly 5 years and many people were injured and killed.

Diego and the Ricardo family, who have befriended him, are caught up in these events. “A loud bang jolted him out of his sleep and onto his feet .. for a long moment there was just the shrieking of the birds to show that there had been an actual noise, that Diego hadn’t dreamed it. Then it happened again – three bangs in a row, like gunshots. Could of smoke rose up from the bridge. All around him Diego heard people coughing and screaming. ‘Tear has!’ he heard some one shout. ‘They’re shooting tear has at us!’.”

If you enjoyed Diego, Run! you will not be disappointed when you go to the library and grab our copy of the sequel. This is a powerful action packed story with a hero that you will never forget. A great read for Senior Primary students.